Facebook could become the largest virtual cemetery in the world

As we invest more and more of ourselves in social media, Facebook profiles could eventually become the digital gravestones of the future.

According to Hachem Sadikki, a PhD candidate in statistics at the University of Massachusetts, Facebook will turn into the world’s biggest virtual graveyard by 2098, provided the social network sticks around for the next century.

Facebook’s refusal to automatically delete dead users automatically and the plateauing membership of the site mean that the living will be outnumbered sooner than you might think.

Sadikki said that he worked out the figure by making the assumption that Facebook’s growth will soon begin to slow and Facebook will retain its existing policy on how to handle dead users. 

Currently when a user dies, Facebook does not delete the account and instead turns it into a ‘memorialised’ version of the page. The only way to delete the account of a dead person is if somebody has their password and can login and close it down. But given that few people give anyone their Facebook login, the page is likely to stay up long after they have died.

Online legacy planning company the Digital Beyond has claimed that 970,000 Facebook users will die this year across the world. That compares to 385,968 in 2010 and 580,000 in 2012.

Facebook’s policy on dead users had led to criticism as some families want more control over how their loved ones are remembered online.

Some dead people still appear as having birthdays in users’ news feeds and alerts despite having passed away. Facebook has tried to get around the problem by asking users to appoint a ‘Legacy Contact’, a sort of online executor of their Will, before they die.

The Legacy Contact can administer the page after you pass away by writing one last post and even approving new friend requests. The contact can also update your cover and profile photo to something more appropriate after you have died.

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